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First up is everyone's favorite, 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster', zones 5 to 9). 'Karl' is the picture of long-season interest. It starts early as a distinguished dark green clump, then virtually explodes in a fluffy fount of pink gingham flowers that nearly triple its height. Those later fade to their signature wheat color and stay pretty for months, even into winter. This grass is A-OK with drought in summer, its nongrowing period, and its columnar form is always fetching.
Photo by Daryl Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons
Blue oat grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens, zones 4 to 8) makes for a perfect steely blue sphere, like blue fescue but bigger. This grass may be a cool-season grower, but it does best with soil on the dry side and plenty of sun. Similarly hued flowers appear in early summer and fade to the namesake oat color by fall.
Photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons
Another underused cool-season grass is autumn moor grass (Sesleria autumnalis, zones 5 to 8). Like tufted hair grass, its apple-green-flowered comrade, this one is a must for fans of chartreuse. Its spiky clumps bloom with little thumbs of soft flowers that shimmer and fade to white with a hint of green. This grass isn't a huge fan of humidity, but it's a fine addition to dry sites in sun.
Photo by Lilly M via Wikimedia Commons
Rounding out our group is a classic favorite grass for shade. It's March in the Northeast right now, but I noticed that my river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium, zones 3 to 8) are already growing. Cool season indeed! This grass is famous for its oatlike flowers, pictured here, that dry and make for fantastic fall accents. It does seed around, so be wary if you're particular about that, but I can attest that it's far less promiscuous in dry shade than damp. River oats are native to wetlands from the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest throughout the Southeast and west of Texas, so if you live in those regions and get stray seedlings, you can at least be assured you're making a positive contribution to your native ecosystem.
Photo by Eric in SF via Wikimedia Commons
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